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The chances of Britain leaving the European Union are "very remote" and making that point clear would help boost investment, Business Secretary Vince Cable said on Friday. Cable told an economic conference in Frankfurt that, despite growing debate in Britain leaving the EU, the likelihood of a such a move was low. "There is a risk, but it is a small risk." Economic ties between Britain and the EU were stronger than many realised, he said, noting that Britain was completely integrated into European supply chains. Eliminating the concerns of businesses about Britain's commitment to Europe was important to boosting long-term investment, Cable said.
Denmark and Norway have offered naval frigates and specialised cargo vessels to transport chemical weapons out of Syria, as part of an international deal that averted U.S. missile strikes on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces. Denmark would lead the operation, while Norway would act as deputy commander, the two countries said in a joint statement. Italy, Norway and Denmark have all offered to transport Syria's chemicals from the port of Latakia with military escorts. According to a plan endorsed by the international community, the most dangerous chemical warfare agents should be out of Syria by end of December.
By Steve Gutterman MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev hinted on Friday that former Yukos oil company chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky would not be freed under an amnesty President Vladimir Putin is preparing, and a prosecutor said the jailed tycoon could face new charges. The head of Putin's human rights council said this week that Khodorkovsky and two women from the punk band Pussy Riot could benefit from the amnesty marking the anniversary of the adoption of Russia's post-Soviet constitution in 1993. But, without naming names, Medvedev said Russia should be careful about freeing people convicted of crimes like hooliganism - the charge in the Pussy Riot case - and theft, which was the indictment against Khodorkovsky. "Our people really are not much inclined, for example, to conduct acts of amnesty for individuals involved in violent crimes, for individuals who committed crimes against society, including hooliganism," Medvedev said in a TV interview.
By David Alexander MANAMA (Reuters) - Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel toured an anti-mine warfare ship in the U.S. Fifth Fleet on Friday to underscore U.S. commitment to Middle East security despite policy differences over Iran and Syria that have angered Washington's long-time Gulf allies. His visit to Bahrain, in which he will also speak at the Manama Dialogue security conference, came at a time of regional unease over President Barack Obama's policies ranging from the cautious U.S. response to Syria's civil war to the six world powers' interim deal with Iran on its nuclear programme. The warship he toured, the USS Ponce, is to be equipped in 2014 with a new Navy laser weapon designed to deter aircraft and missiles as well as attacks by swarms of small boats like those used by Iran, on the opposite side of the Gulf. "But having a steady American hand in this region can help our allies and reassure our allies." Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington, said Gulf Arab leaders felt U.S. policy was misguided and that when they wanted to air their concerns, there was no one in the Obama administration to talk to.
By James Mackenzie ROME (Reuters) - Italy's centre-left Democratic Party (PD) is expected to elect as its leader the charismatic mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi, an outsider who promises both a chance of renewal and a threat to Prime Minister Enrico Letta's already fragile coalition. The 38-year-old Renzi is overwhelming favourite to win Sunday's primary to appoint a new secretary to lead the largest party in Letta's government. A adept television performer sometimes compared to Britain's Tony Blair, Renzi has already added to the complications facing PD colleague Letta, threatening the delicate balance of his coalition with loud demands for the PD to set its stamp more firmly on the government. Renzi will not join the government but as party leader he is the favourite to lead the centre-left PD into the next election as candidate for prime minister.
AMSTERDAM/FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Philips, Samsung Electronics and Media-Saturn, Europe's largest chain of consumer electronics stores, said on Friday they were among companies visited by European Commission officers this week on suspicion of breaking competition rules. The Commission said on Thursday its officers had raided several companies involved in making and selling consumer electronics and small domestic appliances, concerned that the firms had worked together to limit the sale of some goods online to drive up their prices.
By Keith Weir LONDON (Reuters) - Bookmakers are preparing for a tax avoidance crackdown on online gambling in Britain that will cost the industry 300 million pounds ($490 million) a year, putting a brake on the fastest growing part of their businesses. Many bookmakers have set up internet operations in territories such as Gibraltar, allowing them to sign up British gamblers while benefiting from benign local tax regimes. Britain's government, however, is taking a tough line on tax avoidance as it seeks to swell the Treasury's coffers, planning a 15 percent duty on bookmakers' online winnings from British-based customers from next December. That would bring the tax regime into line with the duties bookmakers pay on takings in betting shops and provide a rare example of taxation policy catching up with the internet age.
By David Brunnstrom BEN-GURION AIRPORT, Israel (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry closed another Middle East troubleshooting mission on Friday by urging Israel and the Palestinians to follow Nelson Mandela's lead and make peace. The death on Thursday of Mandela, who fought apartheid in South Africa and became its first black president, was mourned across the globe, including by Israelis and Palestinians - the latter calling him an inspiration for their statehood struggle. Before departing from Tel Aviv after a two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, Kerry quoted Mandela as having said, in the face of challenges, that "it always seems impossible until it is done". "That example of Nelson Mandela is an example we all need to take to heart as we try to reach a two-state solution," Kerry told reporters, referring to the international vision of Palestinian sovereignty in lands Israel occupied in a 1967 war.
KIEV (Reuters) - Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich has postponed a scheduled visit to Malta next week, the presidential website said in a statement on Friday, citing his need "to focus on domestic political issues." Yanukovich, who finished a four-day visit to China on Friday and was reported to be heading for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, faces turmoil in Kiev over his government's suspension of a landmark trade pact with the European Union. (Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Richard Balmforth)